Fox aligns with MSOs for cable net

The proposed new Fox cable network, which appeared to be having trouble lining up support from cable operators because of its high cost, has signed six MSOs: Cox Cable, Times Mirror, Viacom, Telecable, Intermedia Partners and Prime Cable.

These six join Tele-Communications Inc. in agreeing to pony up a collective figure that could be worth as much as $ 22.5 million to Fox in the first year of a five-year contract.

That figure would gradually escalate each year, based on the number of subscribers delivered by the operators, to a top of $ 45 million in year five (based on a total of 15 million subs multiplied by 25 cents a month per subscriber).

In addition to getting a “general-entertainment channel” from Fox that would be exclusive to cable subscribers, the cable operators will beable to continue picking up and retransmitting the signals of the Fox owned TV stations and affiliates without having to pay a retransmission-consent fee.

Fox got its affils on board by agreeing to turn over to them 7 1/2 cents out of each monthly payment of 25 cents it received from cable operators.

“The key to the deal for us is what could be breakthrough programming on an exclusive basis, bolstered by aggressive promotion from Fox,” says Patrick Mellon, VP of programming for Telecable Corp., a top-20 MSO. “And we’re getting three minutes of advertising time each hour” to sell locally, one minute more than the standard commercial giveback by the other cable networks.

Minimize interruptions

But, says Mark Greenburg, VP of marketing for Prime Cable, the 24th-largest MSO in the U.S., “one of my priorities is to minimize the interruptions that could’ve resulted from problems with retransmission consent. I’m happy that we’ve begun cutting into that issue.”

Anne Sweeney, chairman and CEO of the new network (which still doesn’t have a name — as a concession to its broadcast affiliates, the network won’t have Fox in the logo), declined to talk about specific series on the schedule.

Other sources say firstrun serial dramas will run in primetime. There will be a two-hour morning program along the lines of NBC’s “Today” show and Fox will tap into its massive theatrical-movie library. The planned launch date is scheduled for March 1994.

The cable operators who’ve signed up are not objecting to Fox’s plan to carve two hours a day out of the new network’s schedule for each O&O and affiliate to program as its sees fit. “It’ll be programming that’s exclusive to our subscribers,” says Greenburg.

Fox, which — as a sop to its affiliates — had originally planned to hold back a number of 30-second spots in the Fox cable network to promote the programming schedule of its broadcast network, has apparently scaled back on that strategy, according to the MSOs that’ve signed up for the network.

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